The return of serve is the second most important shot in tennis, but that is because it's counterpart is the most important shot. The better you perform with your serve to maintain an advantage in your serve games, the more likely you are to hold serve, and put more pressure on your opponent to hold.
Maintaining The Offense
Return of serve is the most challenging shot in the game, and the very best players in the world are only winning on average 35% of the return points on first serves. One of the deciding factors in the 2022 Wimbledon final between Nick Kyrgios and Novak Djokovic was that Kyrgios only won 17% of first serve return points to 35% for Djokovic.
There are a few things you can do to be sure that you maintain this advantage of being the server. Whether you are facing a very tough returner, which means you could find yourself immediately under pressure, or a weak returner which can mean that you can hold easily if you play your cards right, there are some ways to make sure you don’t give up your advantage, and also maximize it.
Mix It Up
1. Have a variety of serve targets you can hit.
2. Use a variety of spins
3. Change speeds.
4. Change serving positions
The worst thing you could do would be to attempt the same serve over and over, becoming predictable. It’s a little sad when a player has all the tools to keep his or her opponent off balance, guessing, and unable to have great reactions, instead they are very easy to read. I work with my players who are wanting to play at the 4.5 level and above on being able to hit a nice stable of up to 24 different serves. If you figure there are four different target areas in the service box, two service boxes and three basic types of serves then their are 24 archetypal serves, with and infinite number of variations. For instance, you should be able to hit a flat serve to the T, Body, and Corner. You should be able to hit a kick serve to the backhand on both boxes, and a slice serve wide, corner and T. I don’t recommend a slice serve up the middle of the service box, because it can go into the wheelhouse of the opponent, and the spin helps them make an angled shot, I also don’t advise giving a steady diet of kick serves to the forehand, because some players eat those for breakfast, and given time a decent player is going to come forward to take away the effect.
Know Your 'Tell'
One of the funniest stories in tennis is that Andre Agassi had figured out a ‘tell’ that Boris Becker had in his serve that showed Andre where he would be serving direction wise. Andre exploited this greatly and had an awesome head to head record against Becker who thought for years, “He must be able to read my mind”. So, make sure you don’t have a tell.
Give A Fake 'Tell'
One trick I like to use is to look at a target on the court then serve to it, and do that a few times, then look at a target, but serve to another one, and you can check to see if your opponent was cuing into your eyes by how surprised they are when the ball does not go there.
Take Note Of What You Are Doing
Be sure to reflect back on whether you have been serving to the same place in the same service box more than twice in a row. It’s fine if you are a pressure movement player to hit the corner serve often, because your game is not predicated on being unpredictable as much as other styles of play, you want your opponent to think they know what is coming and they are still not able to stop it. Power players will be very much helped by mixing things up. You will want to make sure to hit a serve or two at the body per game to freeze your opponent, opening up the corners of the box for more forced errors on returns and the infrequent ace. Pressure time and space players are definitely going to mix up different kinds of serves to put pressure on the other player and set up other pressure shots. It goes without saying that the disruptive player will mix up serves more than any other player.
Maintain The Percentage
The most important thing to consider is that no matter who you are playing, in the vast majority of matches you are going to win a greater percentage of first serve points than you will those on your second serve. The better the returner, the more likely you want to give up a bit of your all out offense on first serve, in order to make the highest effective percentage on first serve. On days where that is not possible, then you also want to batten down the hatches by having a great day on second serve, and go for a very limited number of double faults. Against the top returner, you may also have to mix up your second serves to some degree so that they cannot attack it as easily.
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